Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

It’s A “Corn”-ucopia Of Corn Dishes

It’s that time of year, yes, it is….just makes me want to burst out into song.  “When the corn is as high as an elephant’s eyyyyyyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeeeee”...

OK, sorry.  If you know me, you don’t want me singing anything at all, let alone the libretto from “Oklahoma”.

Actually, even if you DON’T know me, you don’t want me singing anything at all, let alone the libretto from “Oklahoma”.

Trust me.  Ella Fitzgerald I ain’t.

But, as always, I digress.  This isn’t about singing, or 1940’s musicals, or simply the best female singer that ever lived (that'd be Ms. Ella thankyewvermush), it’s about corn.

Corn.  Specifically, summer sweet corn.  The last leg of that perfect triangle of summer-only goodness; tomatoes, figs and sweet corn.  A trifecta, if you will.  Oh yeah, stone fruits and melons and berries are important now, and certainly welcomed in the little kitchen (I just ate a perfect peach, and was again amazed at how wonderful a creature that is).  But summer without sweet corn, figs and tomatoes is unthinkable.

Since we’ve done our homage to tomatoes, and I shared the seductive glory of a fig upside-down cake with all y’all, it’s time to complete the trilogy.

Let’s talk corn.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Really Lame Headline For A Really Tasty Focaccia

One of the things I try, really, really hard to do with these articles is come up with snappy, witty and hopefully articulate headlines for them.  The sort that will catch your interest, draw you into the article and make you want to read further.

Let’s just say I didn’t quite achieve that this time around.  I tried.  I’ve had an empty Word document up on the computer for most of the day, with the headline “SNAPPY TITLE FOR FOCACCIA POST”.  Clearly, that train never left the station.

But hopefully the shot of the gorgeous, airy, lacy crumb of my focaccia will do what my pathetic attempt at a headline couldn’t; entice you to read on.  Because this bread is really good.  Really easy to make (no kneading !  No stand mixer !).  And did I mention really good?

The recipe and the method come from the October 2010 issue of “Cook’s Illustrated”.  I’ll give it to you pretty much verbatim at the end of the article, because I don’t think I made many (if any) changes to it.  It was the easiest (and tastiest) focaccia I’ve ever made, and it was outstanding for a quick sandwich the next day.  Not as good as when it was fresh, and warm from the oven, but still plenty tasty, and with that nice focaccia “snap” of the crust you expect.

Oh, and the flavor?  Best I’ve made, possibly close to the best I’ve eaten.  Certainly better than anything I’ve purchased in the MegaMarts, or even in most specialty stores.  You’d have to go to a top-drawer Italian restaurant to get this quality focaccia.

So.  About “Cook’s Illustrated”.  I have a love/hate relationship with “Cook’s Illustrated”.

When I was first getting my cooking feet under me, trying to move from “gee, I think I like this cooking thing, where’s that can of cream of mushroom soup?” to “gee, I LOVE this cooking thing, how do I make pate a choux?” I worshipped at the alter of “Cook’s Illustrated”.  I have all the issues from 1996 through October 2009 stashed away in a cupboard in my kitchen, along with half of 1995 and another random scattering of issues since 2009 that I’ve picked up on the newsstand.  Obviously, I was a long-term subscriber (obviously), and I learned a lot from them.  A lot.  A ton, actually.  As an avowed science geek (although my degree is in a liberal arts field, I spent my working life working for scientific firms and with scientists), I appreciated “CI’s” methodical, science driven approach to making the best dish.  Much for the same reason, I am a HUGE fan of Alton Brown and “Good Eats”.  (Let’s all take a moment and shed a tear for the cancellation of “Good Eats” from the miasma that is now the Food Network ….)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Here A Figgy, There A Figgy…

Happily, in my little kitchen, everywhere a figgy figgy !

Even though I most certainly am NOT a fan of typical Summer weather (although, honestly, I got nothing to b*tch about this year in SoCal….so far….although I’m sure, dead-bang sure our time is comin’….), I absolutely AM a fan of the bounty of fruits and vegetables that comes along with the heat and the long, sunny days.

I’ve already shared my reverence for vine-ripened, sun-warmed straight-from-the-vine beefsteak tomatoes (got another haul in the CSA share this week and about another 6 ready to ripen in the backyard in the next few days…*big grin*).  Corn is plentiful, sweet and tender, and we’ll be seeing some corn dishes real soon, because they’ve been featured in the little kitchen for the past week.  Corn….how do I love thee??

But there goes that silly digression trait of mine again.  Because the reason we’re gathered together here today, my friends, is to celebrate the pinnacle of the late Summer/early Fall produce bounty.  The fig.  To me, the fig, in all of its succulent, jammy, sweet, seedy glory, is what all fruits aspire to be.

I came late to the fig love.  Oh, I’d eaten my share of Fig Newtons when I was a snot-nosed kid, and even purchased The Newts pretty frequently as an adult, but I honestly can’t remember seeing a fresh fig commercially until about 5 or 10 years ago.  I think I might have had some friends that had fig trees in their yards, but I wasn’t interested enough to ask them to share (or they were too covetous of their bounty more likely).  I’d certainly seen them dried, and again, purchased them, used them in cooking, and eaten them.  I liked them (as I did The Newtons), but thought, “eh, no big whup”.

Then….at a Farmers’ Market a few years back, I saw a carton of fresh ones.  They were hideously expensive, but since I’m the die-hard trendoid foodie that I am, I took the plunge.

I got home, rinsed one off, took a bite and…

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Mezze Was Not Messy (But The Kitchen Was…..)

In fact, it was very, very tasty.  The mezze, that is.  According to the Great God Wikipedia (which we all know is unimpeachably accurate…. {/end snark}), mezze is “a selection of small dishes served in the Mediterranean and Middle East as dinner or lunch, with or without drinks”.  To me, as my boy Alton Brown would say, mezze is just, ermmmmm….good eats.  And, it goes without saying, my mezze was going to be served with drinks.

And so it was a couple of weeks back, the day I made the pita bread I last shared with you.  Because, good as homemade, fresh, pillowy pita bread is, that really doesn’t constitute a full meal, especially not a full meal for friends.

So, there was mezze.  Really good mezze.  Homemade falafel, made from dried chickpeas, mixed with fresh, lushly flavorful herbs and fried gently in olive oil.  Tzatziki, too, creamy, thick Greek yogurt, mixed with more herbs and garlic and cucumber.  Tahini sauce, to drizzle over.  And a Greek salad, since that’s the direction we were leaning, more towards the Mediterranean end of the mezze spectrum than the Middle Eastern one.  All dishes I’d made before, in one iteration or another, but never in this gathering of yummies, and not usually made totally from scratch, from hopefully quasi-*authentic* recipes.

My falafels had, previously, come from a box mix of dehydrated chickpea (garbanzo) flour and dried herbs.  Reconstitute with some water, let sit, form and fry.  They were….passable, but I knew I could do better.  My Greek salads had been laden with extraneous ingredients.  My tahini sauce had been from a jar.  It was time to up the ante a bit, and try to see if I could concoct some semi-authentic mezze.

Oh, the teaser picture.  For some reason (insert head-smack here), I didn’t get a picture of the entire table when everything was done, nor of the finished sandwiches with the falafel patty on the pita, drizzled with the tahini sauce, and the tzatziki and dressed with lettuce, tomato and onion.  I *think* I tried….and the shots I got were out of focus and/or poorly lit.  It did sort of all come together very quickly at the end, and it got rushed.  Too many tasks, too few hands, too much potential to burn down the house with hot oil.   So, up there we gots the tahini sauce (in the small bowl to the bottom left), the tzatziki (in the medium-size bowl to the bottom right) and the Greek salad up top.

We’ll see the falafels later….

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Don't Pity The Pita

Pity me instead……

Yeah, fine, that was a cheap joke…..sorta….

Friends....it's been a day.  Yeppers, a day.  And then some.  And yet, I had this TASK I needed to get done.

OK, as always, full disclosure.  I had intended to write this article yesterday, (and actually the day before), and to make it much more *meaty*.  I had made a rather excellent , and well received, Greek/Middle-Eastern feast for my friends and wanted to share the results.

Right.  Truly, I had started thinking about writing it on Sunday, but see…..Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are *most* excellent TV days in satellite/cable land.  See...on Sunday you have “Food Network Star” (oh the shame) and then “Big Brother” (more shame) and then “True Blood” (no shame THERE, that show is HOT) and then Dr. Drew (scrapin’ the bottom here….).  So that’s Sunday.  Then, well MONDAY has “Design Star” really, really early on the Left Coast (like dinner time…oy), and then “Hell’s Kitchen” (head starts hanging again) and then “Master Chef” (even more so….), and I’m still peeved that at least on DirecTV, without a DVR, Bourdain’s “No Reservations” is on when I can’t see it fresh because of the other stuff I’m guiltily addicted to….

And then there’s Tuesday; more “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Master Chef” and maybe some “Chopped” (about the only thing I watch on Food Network any longer, well except for “Next Food Network Star”) and I try to squeeze in some Dodgers somewhere, even though like all True Blue Dodger Fans, I’m actively boycotting them until McCrook is gone, but I digress as usual….

PHEW.  I wore me out with that.  In a nutshell, Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, at least during the summer, ain’t gunna get my attention to Le Blog in the evenings.  Let’s just say, I get distracted real easily…And you now know all my dirty little secrets.  At least TV-wise...

So.  I got up today, Wednesday, fully intending to post the entire Greek/Middle Eastern meze feast that happened a week or so ago.  Because, truthfully, it’s been a dry spell in the little kitchen since then.  Inspiration has taken the last train out of Dodge.  I think I’m feeling the call of heavy Autumn/Winter comfort food; stews and chilies and braises and baked pastas, oh my.  And even though we in SoCal have been blessed, blessed I tells ya, with a remarkably mild summer, boeuf bourguignon just doesn’t seem right in August.  Not with all the fresh Summer produce in the market and the CSA.  But they ain’t been coming together in a nice, unified, coherent way for me.  Oh, I'm lovin' grazing on the stone fruit and the melon slices wrapped with prosciutto and the tomatoes (I have mentioned tomatoes, haven't I?) and the summer squash.  But a coherent, well-thought out meal ?  Or even a stellar main course....not happening so much.  Lot's of grazing going on does not lend itself to dazzling, brilliant blog articles.  Oh, there was a tomato pie from the current (August) issue of "Bon Appétit" I thought was going to be the bomb.  Instead…….it just……bombed.  So, speaking of scraping the bottom of the barrel, I’m rapidly running out of things to talk about.

But I had this meal to pull out of my bag ‘o’ tricks to tell you about, because I was (and am) really proud of it, and I was gunna tell you about it.  Today.  For sure, today.  It was on the agenda.  The “To-Do” List.   Until……..until……the adorable, cosseted, beloved, angel-baby, lights of my life, preshy-weshy little fur bombs decided to become POSSESSED UNGRATEFUL HELL DOGS today.

Suffice it to say, they found the last nerve I had going, and they both decided to twang it like a bad Metal anthem.

And I was gunna blow this  whole thing off, until….until……

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

When Life Gives You Tomatoes….You Eat Really Well

Isn’t that picture just the epitome and embodiment of Summer ?  A huge, (and I do mean HUGE, that puppy weighed in at over a pound !), vine-ripened beefsteak tomato, dripping with dew (OK, full disclosure, that was water from my having rinsed it before I cooked with it, but still, it *could've* been dew).

Here’s a shot of that monster in my hand, so you can get an idea of how gimogeous this thing really was.

It was truly massive.  *AND* it had flavor, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

I love tomatoes.

No.  Let me qualify that.

I love tomatoes that have ripened on the vine, and have been grown carefully and fed and watered regularly, and have had lots of sun and lots of care.  Tomatoes that are soft and sorta squishy, and that spew juice all over your counter when you cut them.  Tomatoes that are warm from the sun, that you rinse off and slice and inhale as is, or on bread, or in a Caprese salad, or over pasta.  Or that you just bite into on your way from the garden to the kitchen, the juice and seeds dripping down your chin, and over your hands.  The tomatoes that explode with sweet, tangy, acidic, tomato-y flavor, and fill your mouth with tomato joy.  The tomatoes so full of that lovely “jelly” interior they remind you of one of those fruit gel candies called "Pâtes de fruits”.

*THOSE* tomatoes (and these) I love.

I most assuredly do NOT love those supermarket cotton balls with the mealy, tasteless centers, the ones you could pitch a major league baseball game with, the ones that are picked totally green and gassed with ethylene oxide to turn their skins a pale imitation of the deep red color we expect, but which will never, ever achieve the glory that is a REAL tomato.

*THOSE* tomatoes I loath.

I’ve grown tomatoes before, and while they’re not particularly a difficult plant to grow and harvest, like anything alive, they need some care and some fussing with.  And, due to some health/mobility issues, I can’t work any kind of a garden in the ground any longer.  I could probably get DOWN to sit by the bed and work it, but it’d take a sky-hook crane to get me back up.

A couple of years ago, I tried one of those “topsy-turvy” tomato growing things.  It was….not a success.  I put the thing in the same spot (a narrow bed by my driveway, with a Western exposure, against a light stucco wall) where I’d successfully grown tomatoes (albeit in the ground) before.  The plants (I had three of them in the hanging baggy thingy) started out great guns.  And rapidly faltered.  I had only used really easy-to-grow cultivars I’d successfully grown in the ground in previous years, so I thought it was going to be a slam dunk.  Not so much.  I think I got a total of 20 tomatoes out of the 3 plants that year, and they were small, fairly tasteless and generally not stellar.  I think the soil in the bag got too hot, and steamed the roots when I watered them.  In the plastic, there was no way for the soil to "breathe".  Plus I don’t think there was enough soil in the baggy thingy to support 3 full plants, even though it had 3 ports for planting and the instructions indicated it could support all three.  The bag was unwieldy, it was hard to water and fertilize, and as I said the yield was dismal.  It finally went into the trash and recycling bins as was appropriate to the parts of the contraption.

For the next few summers, I tried to make do with tomatoes from the local farmers’ markets, Trader Joe’s “Heirloom” tomatoes (which are actually pretty decent, not top tier, but not bad….) and lately from my CSA, The Growing Experience.

This year, though, I was determined to grow my own.  I had an unused, huge PVC pot, which had previously held a rose bush, so I knew it was plenty big enough, I had the tomato cage/support gizzies, all I needed was the soil and the plants.  Which, I promptly obtained in mid-Spring.  I planted, I caged, I watered, I fertilized, and I waited for the succulent harvest.

It started out really well, and then took a dramatic turn to disaster land…….